If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s this: don’t ever wish for anything you don’t absolutely want. Before the words “I wish” even enter your mind, it might do some good to think about how that wish can be used to hurt you, and what exactly you are wishing on. Some things grant wishes more literally than others, and it often leads to nothing but trouble.
Oh, fuck, that knocking at the door is driving me crazy, that horrible voice. Jesus she’s going to break down the fucking door. Keep it together, Olivia. Just a few more minutes.
It was me, making a stupid, ill-thought out wish that landed me in my current situation. With a corpse at my door, calling my name because it knows I’m here. It’s what I’d wanted, after all. I’d wanted her back. I’d wished for her to come back so we could spend her birthday together.
This is more of an ending I’m telling. I never was quite good at telling stories.
The beginning is…well, let me go back there. If this is going to be my final recording, if this is going to be the start of some new world out of a Romero film, it should be well documented that it was all. My. Fault.
Alice was my best friend, practically from the moment we met. I was an introvert, and she was an extrovert. We met by chance, one night after a tragedy had ripped my life apart, and she hadn’t given me much choice but to be friends with her. Before long, we were practically inseparable.
Alice made me feel completely comfortable when we were together, often the two of us sitting around one of our apartments on our laptops, absorbed with Twitter or memes, and occasionally yelling at the contestants on Cupcake Wars or whatever cooking contest we were watching.
The night that Alice was murdered started with only one small exception to our routine. Instead of having something on the TV, we were listening to music coming out of Alice’s laptop speakers. “What is this?” I asked.
A few clicks, and she answered me, giving me the artist – a band I already knew well – but not the song. I threw a pillow at her, and she gave me the title of the song with a laugh before we fell back into amicable silence.
“We’re going to karaoke next Friday, right?” Alice asked, her face not moving from her screen.
“Are you implying there’s another way to celebrate your birthday?” I said, feigning shock, my eyes deliberately wide as I looked at her.
She laughed. “Fair point.”
My face fell as I glanced back at my computer screen. “Oh shit! Is it really one-thirty?”
“Ummmmmm, yeah?” Alice sounded unsure as she clicked
“Shit, I have to get home. All my clothes live there.” I closed my laptop too hard and packed it up quickly. Grabbing my keys, work badge, and phone, I ran out of the house, screaming by goodbyes behind me.
I didn’t find out what happened to her until the next day. We were supposed to hang out at my place, and she never showed up. It wasn’t until later that evening, after about a hundred text messages and twenty calls — something I never used my phone for — that I found out what had happened. A mutual friend of ours, Jaye, showed up at my apartment with four pints of ice cream and sorrowful, red eyes. “Liv, I’m so sorry,” he said.
“About what?” By the look in his eyes, something bad had happened, and I felt all the worry and concern I had for Alice ball itself up just under my ribcage.
“You didn’t hear? God damnit,” he said. I moved out of the way and got spoons for the ice cream, having a feeling I was going to need one, or maybe all of them. My heart was racing when I finally joined him on the couch. By the time he’d finished, we’d eaten all three pints, and I’d texted Rae, my roommate, and asked her to pick up some more on her way home from work.
Alice had never been particularly good at locking her door. Any other night, I double checked when I left, made sure the lock was in place before I headed to my car. I’d even been known to go back and double check before driving away because I knew how bad she was about it.
When she heard the door close after she’d gone to bed, she’d crept out of bed armed with a guitar, of all things – she always thought it would be cool to use one as a weapon, and it was heavy enough that it could do some damage if it made contact. Usually, when this happened, she got to the bottom of the stairs and was faced with an empty entryway. She might have been able to ward the intruder off if he hadn’t been armed, and if I hadn’t already worn away her apprehension for strange sounds while locking her door all those other nights.
Jaye hadn’t wanted to give me the details, but thanks of the wonder of the internet, I was able to fill in some of the details. The intruder was a junkie, only interested in money or any valuables that she might have had in her house. Apparently, he hadn’t thought anyone was home after he’d seen my car pull out of her driveway. When she’d come down, armed with her cheap black electric guitar brandished like Babe Ruth going up to bat, he’d panicked. He stabbed her – the news reports said it was about fourteen times – and left her bleeding on her kitchen floor. She’d left her phone upstairs, and without a way of calling anyone for help, she’d died there, cold and alone. According to the police reports, she’d laid on her floor, bleeding out, for hours.
And just like that, my social life, my best friend, my non-romantic soul mate, was gone. Alice’s funeral was a long, Catholic affair that made my knees ache by the end of it from the constant kneeling. I had a get-together at my apartment afterward, a bunch of the friends she introduced me to came over and we drank moscato (Alice’s favorite wine), blasted her favorite (terrible) music, and talked about our favorite memories of Alice. The drinks and the laughter almost filled the void that night, the hole that was left in my heart where she used to live.
Over the next couple of days, things almost got back to normal, in the sense that I managed to pull myself out of bed every day. Work didn’t offer me any bereavement for my fallen best friend. I came home, ate dinner, and listened to music in my living room, or on the rare occasion, I would put on Cupcake Wars and talk at the TV, but it never felt the same. I kept looking over, realizing that she wasn’t next to me on the couch, that she would never be sitting next to me ever again. She was the only person who understood my need for silent companionship, and now she was gone.
Rae tried to be supportive, but over the course of those few days, I could tell that my sadness was beginning to grate on her, and she started to keep her distance from me. Without Alice, I began pulling away from the friends I did still have, choosing instead to stay home, hide in my room, and try to deal with my grief alone.
Everything was perfectly normal, yet nothing was the same.
I couldn’t believe that anything, god, destiny, fate, whatever it was called, could do something so cruel. I had wanted one thing, one person who understood me, who didn’t press me to talk or socialize or go out when I wasn’t feeling up to it. The universe had given me a taste of perfect friendship, and then cruelly ripped it from me.
When Jaye knocked on my door, I was in the middle of playing some retro video game on my Xbox that isn’t even worth mentioning. Rae must have let him in, because he came into the living room just as my character died in the game. Again.
Fuck that game, anyway.
I turned the game off and gave him my full attention. I expected words, but he just handed me a small box. I opened his gift and took the necklace out, laying it on my palm. It was a small blue stone pendant wrapped in some wire with a simple length of chain. It wasn’t a particularly pretty piece of jewelry. “Thank you, Jaye,” I said, giving him my best fake smile.
He looked from me to the pendant and started talking. “It’s called a Djinn Charm. It’s supposed to grant the wearer one wish. I was thinking you could use it to bring some happiness back into your life.” He reached up, absently stroking the sides of his slightly curled moustache. I looked at him, his eyes trying to get through to me as I looked at him. All I could think was how much he looked like Silent Bob, if Silent Bob was a pirate who never shut up. Un-Silent Bob, if you will. It was an observation I’d first made with Alice, shortly after she’d introduced us, and for the first time in days, the faintest hint of a smile touched my face.
“The only thing that would bring my happiness back was if this thing could bring Alice back. And Jaye, it’s a necklace. It doesn’t grant wishes.” I couldn’t keep the sarcastic ire from my voice, and I felt guilty even as the words left my mouth. He was trying, I knew, and it wasn’t fair for me to attack him.
“Liv, I know it sounds crazy to you, but it works.” He looked at me, his face serious, and I had no idea what to believe, or how to respond. I was sure it did work. I would make some stupid wish, and then because I wanted it to come true, I would self-actualize my own desires.
“So, Jaye, let me get this straight, if I make a wish on this, it comes true? Anything I want? What, does a genie live inside of it?” I was openly mocking him now. He had called it a Djinn Charm. Djinn were genies…weren’t they? I struggled to remember the mythology class I’d taken in college.
He heaved a sigh, his face falling from my cruelty. “Listen, believe it or don’t, Liv, but this will grant you a wish. Whether you believe that it’s the product of wishful thinking, you need all the help you can get.” He hadn’t said it in a cruel way, but the words still stung. The only reason Jaye hadn’t snapped back at me was because he knew how depressed I was underneath the malice.
I turned the ugly little necklace around in my hands. One wish? Yeah, right. Still, I’d already spit in the face of his kindness, and I wanted to do what I could to make it right. I fought back tears and put the stupid thing, tucking it under my T-shirt. “Okay, Jaye,” I said, doing my best not to roll my eyes. “Thank you. I appreciate your thinking of me.”
He put his arm around me, rubbing my back and giving me a little smile. “I’m just worried about you. You’re acting like everything’s fine, but I can see in your eyes – and your attitude – that you’re still far from it.”
I sighed and looked down. “I just feel like I should have done something. I left the door unlocked. If I hadn’t noticed how late it was that creep never would have -” I stopped, my voice cracking as tears filled my eyes. I had lived the night a hundred times, and a hundred times I’d managed to save her. Not that any of the scenarios I’d made in my head would have come true, not in a hundred thousand years of living the same day like some fucked up Groundhog Day. I would probably have gotten us both killed…
I was crying now, fluid leaking out of my face with no signs of stopping. Jaye was doing everything he could to try and calm me down. I didn’t understand his words, but a soft, soothing string of words came from his lips, and after a while tears dried up. “Olivia, there’s nothing that you could have done to change what happened. It was just…I don’t know, some fucked up sort of fate, wasn’t it? Listen, it might not mean much, and you’re sick of hearing it, but if you ever need to talk-”
“Yeah, yeah, Jaye, I know. I can talk to you and every single other Facebook acquaintance.” I don’t know why I was angry. I took a shaky breath and addressed him again. “I’m sorry, Jaye, my emotions are still a roller coaster. It’s been almost a week and I can’t seem to make myself get back to normal.” I sniffed and wiped the fountain of snot from my nose. Good thing this was my “inside only” sweater and it was almost laundry day.
“I know, Liv. That’s why I put up with you – and so we can remember the best parts of Alice together.”
I hugged Jaye, still feeling tired. Maybe a nap would solve everything, and I would wake feeling refreshed and hopeful.
My eyes shot open in my dark bedroom. I’d been drifting for a while, in that floating space between sleeping and waking. I was thinking back to the last time Alice and I had gone to karaoke, how we’d gotten every single person in the bar singing to our rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” It was the perfect way to end the night, even if we did have to stay at the bar two hours after karaoke was over because I’d accidentally had too much to drink.
It was then that it hit me, a sudden thought that shot directly in my heart like a bullet: sharp, immediate, and excruciating. The clock’s red LED read 12:16 a.m.
It was her birthday.
I rolled over in bed, grabbing the stuffed bear she’d bought me as a “stop being a grumpy bitch” present, hugging it close to me. “Happy birthday, Alice,” I said, trying to smile through my tears. “Wish you were here to celebrate it with me.”
I felt a warmth spread through me, saw a light shining in my chest. No, not in my chest. Just under my T-shirt. Under my T-shirt where the Djinn Charm Jaye had gotten me still sat. It could have been the fuzzy half-asleep state I was in, but I thought I heard soft humming, almost like electrical feedback. Was it some sort of weird voice-reactive thing? Maybe it was a trinket that came programmed to come on when someone said, “I wish.”
It was so warm, and it was spreading all through my body now. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it did feel…alien. I thought of what Jaye had said to me but dismissed it as one of his tall tales. There was no way it was magical. I hadn’t even wished for anything, not really. I’ve seen Aladdin, I knew the rules. Even genies couldn’t bring people back from the dead.
I let out a breath and made myself get off that crazy train of thought. Obviously, he’d gotten me something that was supposed to light up or make a heartbeat and it was broken. The warm feeling was probably low-grade electric shock. I took off the necklace and set it down next to my bed. I didn’t know anything about electric shock, but it made me feel better to write it off than to entertain the idea that Jaye was right.
I rolled over, getting as far away from the ugly glowing necklace as I could, and closed my eyes. I couldn’t get over what happened until I started sleeping through the night again, instead of staying up and imagining that I could have saved my best friend.
My roommate was watching TV when I got home from work. “Hey Rae,” I said, seeing her frame curled up on the couch. She turned her head as though she hadn’t heard me come in and waved.
“Oh hey, Liv. Dale called; he has my house keys, so I’m going to head to his place tonight to pick them up. Remember to lock the door behind me, alright?” The comment stung, and I tossed my shoes into the disorganized arrangement next to the door. She probably hadn’t meant it in the way I was taking it, as an accusation of my involvement with Alice’s death. Still, it left me feeling gutted.
I walked through the living room into the kitchen and started looking through my meager food supply to find something for dinner, listening to the news as it droned throughout the apartment. “…local gravesite of twenty-seven-year-old murder victim Alice Littleton appears to have been exhumed early this evening, leaving substantial damage to the gravesite. Littleton was found dead in her home just one week ago, stabbed in a robbery gone wrong. No suspects have been reported yet in the vandalization of her grave…”
What? The murder had been random, and Alice didn’t have any enemies – at least not any that would stoop so low as to fuck with her eternal resting place. Why would someone do something so cruel?
“Happy birthday, Alice. Wish you were here to celebrate it with me.” My own words came back in my mind.
Nope. No way. Absolutely not. No fucking way had that stupid, ugly necklace Jaye gave me have any sort of mystic power. I refused to believe it. The grave had been dug up by some arrogant fuckwit teenagers who had no respect for the dead, or the living that still loved them. I did not accidentally make a wish from a fucking genie in a necklace for my dead best friend back. Even the thought of it sounded like something from a fairy tale. Or a Stephen King novel, I thought, taking my microwaved macaroni and cheese straight into my room.
I looked up the news article on the web. I found the report that I’d heard on the TV, which didn’t give many more details, except that there was no damage to the headstone. If that was all that was damaged, then why had the news report said, “substantial damage?”
I started surfing the web, knowing that there had to be some supernatural blogger that had decided Alice must have been a vampire or something and went investigating. It didn’t take long for me to find what I was looking for, and when I looked closely at the photos of her grave, my blood was replaced with ice water.
The grave had been partially dug up, that’s what the news had said. There was no other vandalism, either, which also accurate to the news story. What the news didn’t mention was how the grave appeared to have been dug up from the wrong side, or that the “substantial damage” had been to the casket. This wasn’t any teenager with a shovel in the dead of night. The grave looked like Alice had dug her way out from the bottom up. I was shaking, and I had to calm myself down. And then I had to talk to Jaye.
Step one was simple. I went back to the kitchen, grabbed a wine glass out of the cabinet and the bottle of five-dollar moscato out of the fridge. I filled the glass more than I should have, recapped the bottle and put it back in the fridge. Once I was safely back in my room, I turned on some Journey in hopes that it would help calm my nerves. I went to Facebook and hoped that Jaye would be online. While I was still typing a hello, I received a message.
“Liv, did you see the news? What the fuck did you wish for!”
I looked at it for longer than I thought, my eyes going between the screen and the table where I’d set the blue gemstone. It looked somehow duller than it had when he’d given it to me. “What the fuck are you talking about?” I answered, incredulous. “All I said while I had that stupid necklace on last night was that it was Alice’s birthday and that I wished she was here to celebrate it with me.”
The little chat bubble appeared, telling me he was typing. Then it stopped.
I was still staring intently at it when my phone went off, scaring the shit out of me. I took a sip of wine and picked it up. It was Jaye. I answered the phone after staring incredulously at it for a second. “What?” I snapped.
“You wished for what?”
“Jaye, stop it! I didn’t wish for anything!”
An exasperated sigh left his mouth, clearly audible through the phone. I imagined he’d be running his hand through his long hair right now, trying to compose himself. “Olivia, did you say that you wished Alice was here to celebrate her birthday with you?”
“I suppose I did say that.”
A string of curses left his mouth that rivaled the skilled wordsmanship of even Alice’s swearing prowess. “Jaye, where did that necklace come from, anyway?”
“I’ll send you the link. I thought it was just bullshit, something to cheer you up…fuck, Liv, I didn’t know you were gonna try and bring someone back!”
“I didn’t try to do anything, Jaye! You just said it was bullshit. And even if I did ‘wish Alice back,’ isn’t that a score for me? I get my best friend back, and that’s all I wanted!” There were tears in my eyes and I downed half my wine in one long pull from the dainty glass in my trembling hand. Didn’t magic and all that other shit only work on people who believed in it?
A blue hyperlink popped up in Facebook, and I clicked it. The website seemed normal enough, but a little weird in terms of what was being sold. Ugly blue necklaces that looked just like mine, Ifrit’s blood, phoenix feathers, dragon scales. Shit that couldn’t possibly exist. “What the fuck is this site, Jaye?”
“One of my friends told me about it; it’s supposedly the real deal. I thought it was bullshit,” he explained. “I bought two of them, thinking I’d wish for something stupid. And then after I put it on and made my wish, it started glowing. A few hours later, after I gave you yours, I got my wish.” His tone changed, turning accusatory. “But I didn’t wish to resurrect my dead friend, Liv. After I saw the news about Alice’s grave, I talked to some people I know. I asked what might happen if someone used a Djinn charm to wish for a person to come back from the dead.” He fell silent, like he didn’t want to give me some terrible news.
Finally, I had to prompt him to continue. I still wasn’t sure I believed it, but he’d managed to pull me into the fantasy. “The closest comparison I’ve gotten is…” he hesitated, concern having filtered into his words. “Well, have you seen Pet Cemetery?”
Images of creepy, murderous children entered my mind, and I shuddered. “It sounds like a Djinn can resurrect the body of a person, but there’s an argument about what happens to the soul, or whatever that thing is that makes us…well, us.”
I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice. “It was just a bunch of stupid kids pulling a prank. They probably mock buried one of their friends and had them climb out and that’s how they made it look like that.”
Denial is an interesting place, isn’t it? A person can make up all sort of ridiculous stories and force themselves to believe it, because oftentimes, believing those lies was so much easier than believing the truth.
I went to bed shortly after Rae left for her boyfriend’s, my wine glass empty and my dinner sitting on the table by the necklace, cold and untouched.
Another night of not being able to sleep. Bob’s Burgers played on my laptop next to me as I tried to process the argument. Jaye had gone on about how I’d done some grave injustice by making the wish, and I’d settled myself into the idea that he must have been dealing with some early-onset dementia.
Ghosts, goblins, zombies, fairies, vampires, demons, genies…none of it was real. Jaye was always going on about that sort of garbage and it made me want to strangle him. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, he’d managed to dig his little paranoia barbs into me and I lay there, seriously contemplating whether I’d turned my best friend’s body into a walking corpse.
I closed my eyes and was nearly asleep when the stupid pop music that was my ringtone jolted me awake. I froze, my hand hovering over the phone as I realized just what stupid poppy ringtone that was. It was her ringtone. No one else had that one. When I picked up the phone to check the number, it read “Unlisted.” My heart thundered in my ears as the music stopped, and I was almost able to take a breath before it started again.
The same ringtone.
The phone shook in my hand, and it took a few tries to get my finger across the screen to accept the call. My voice was small as I answered. “Hello?”
There was an explosion of background noise on the other end, like a mixture of static and a strong wind blowing directly into the mouthpiece. Underneath all of that, a voice that was very close to one I knew spoke to me. There was something wrong with the voice, though, something hollow and lifeless. It was too deep, too cold, too…inhuman.
“Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiv,” the voice said softly under the static.
A tear ran down my face and I took a shaky breath. “Alice?”
A wet chuckle rattled through the phone and I nearly dropped the phone. I wanted to scream, but I could barely remember how to breathe. “Liiiiiiiiv, let me iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin.”
“No!” I shouted, tossing the phone across the room. It bounced off the wall, and I pushed myself back until I hit the headboard. I grabbed the stuffed animal Alice had given me and hugged it as though it would ward off whatever evil was on the other end of the phone. I buried my face into its head and I cried, high pitched sobs that rivaled the wails I’d let out when I first learned of her death.
That voice had been so inhuman, so malicious, and worst of all: it had been hers. There wasn’t a tone or inflection that would have given it away, but that voice had rung through my ears, through my thoughts, had saturated my memories for so long that I knew.
Somehow, someway, everything Jaye had said to me was true. He’d bought me a magic talisman on a whim, I’d accidentally wished my best friend back from the grave. It was a harmless statement made by my broken heart, but I had done something truly despicable. If that voice was what I had to base my thoughts on, I was sorry I hadn’t just let her go.
The first knock I heard on the door was light, something easily ignored. Maybe it had been a pebble, or an acorn, driven into my door by the wind. I didn’t know what I believed anymore. I’d had my entire life in a matter of days and all I wanted now was to reverse the clock and unmake that wish.
I wanted my best friend back. I didn’t want whatever had called me on the phone, that hollow lifeless thing that had asked me to let it in. That wasn’t Alice. It was using her voice, it might even be using her body, but it couldn’t be…it couldn’t be her. Alice was always brimming with personality, the life of the party, the first person to stand up for someone who was getting walked on. She’d gathered all the outcasts she saw, introduced them to each other and making us closer than blood. She’d never shown an ounce of malice to me, not in any way that voice had.
Her death had broken us all.
The truth was, none of us could have saved her that night. It was true that I’d left in a hurry, and that I was usually the last line of defense when it came to her bad habit of leaving the door unlocked. That didn’t make her death my fault. “I’m sorry, Alice,” I wept, rocking back and forth and trying to ease the pain inside. I was no longer apologizing for not saving her from the junkie. Instead, I was begging forgiveness for bringing her back. This wasn’t how I wanted my memories of Alice to be, tainted by the hollow voice on the distant end of a phone that lay broken on the other side of my bedroom.
I didn’t want to remember her as the wish I’d accidentally made on a Djinn Charm. As the corpse who had crawled out of her grave to come spend her birthday with me because I couldn’t stop thinking of the fun we’d had at karaoke, when we had an entire bar scream-singing “Don’t Stop Believing.”
The knocking was louder now, more insistent, and I could hear that voice on the other side, the voice that was Alice’s and not Alice’s, telling me to let her in, that she was so happy that I’d brought her back, that she couldn’t wait to see me. “Just opeeeeen the dooooor, Liiiiiiv.”
No. No no no no no no.
I can’t. I can’t let her in.
I wanted to let her in. She was my best friend, she always will be my best friend. But Alice was not on the other side of the door. My apartment was old, and her banging on the door was getting louder, more insistent. Eventually, she would make it through.
I had to know what was on the other side. I crawled from my bedroom to the rattling door and I pulled myself up on weak, shaking legs to look through the peep-hole.
I immediately wished I hadn’t.
Six days in the ground. Six days being left to the worms, the maggots, and they had taken to her just as I had in life. Her hair, once a shining chestnut brown, now clung to her dirty, pale flesh in patches, caked with the still-fresh earth she had been buried under. Her face was still mostly intact, her gray flesh hanging loosely, the muscles having slackened in death, turning her face into a grimace. Her eyes, once a brilliant green, now milky white, and it looked as though worms, maggots, or some carrion insect had gotten hold of the socket and was chewing away the flesh around it, exposing dead muscle and a hint of bone.
I’d turned my best friend into a walking corpse with one sole purpose. To get to me. If I let her have me, would we be able to die together, or would I become whatever I had turned her into? Would she be left alone if I was to die, like she had left me in death?
I sank to the floor, feeling the vibrations as my legs pressed against the door. I didn’t see her hands. They must have been broken, covered in crusted brown blood where she’d likely clawed her way out of her casket.
And that was when I had the brilliant idea to record this. It turned out that my phone wasn’t broken, just cracked, and the voice recorder still worked. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and these might be my final words. If I can’t stop her, just know that I am so fucking sorry for everything that I’ve done. And I have one request.
Let me stay dead, no matter how much it hurts. If you really love me, if you’ve ever loved me, let me go. The pain will ease with time. No matter what you do, never wish for me to come back. Not to a shooting star, not to a friend, not even to yourself. You never know what may be listening, and what their intentions might be.
Better yet, cremate me. I can’t bear to think that someone might miss me enough to turn me into what I’ve turned Alice into.
No matter how much I’d loved her in life, the next moments, the next days, the next years of my life will have the memories of her that I once held so fondly tainted by the terror, despair, and regret that I feel about what I have done, and what I am about to do.
I’ve taken a few steps to prepare for the inevitability of her getting inside. I don’t have a gun, but I do have a baseball bat. It’s no electric guitar, but I can hope that the force of my normally weak arms will be enough to stop her, or at least slow her. I have “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie queued on my phone. As soon as I’m finished recording, I’m going to turn it on. I feel like she would appreciate it, if she were still capable of appreciating anything.
This is it. I’m going to open the front door, and I’m going to kill my best friend.